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Post-COVID Eid: Celebrations are back, So is the food waste


The COVID experience was almost all bad, especially in Indonesia. Its disruption to everyday patterns and habits caused a loss of livelihood as well lives. But this kind of disruption also presented an opportunity – an opportunity to make fundamental changes to those patterns and habits. The window for that opportunity is still open but closing quickly.

One change which is desperately needed but is yet to occur is a reduction of food loss and waste (FLW). Unfortunately, this years eid celebrations will reflect just how badly this opportunity has been missed. What is missed out on is not only cleaner streets but also the opportunity to feed Indonesia’s hungry.

Food waste is being called out as one of the most crippling issues facing our planet in the 21st century. It is estimated that upwards of 1.3 billion tonnes of food. Equivalent to one third of the world’s food, is lost or wasted every year. Meanwhile, almost 800 million people go hungry.

This imbalance is not only immoral but also killing the planet. The methane from food waste is a staggering 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. Because of this, food in landfill has become one of the biggest contributors to annual greenhouse gas emissions. By extension, to the world’s climate crisis.  

However, it is also an issue which, if effective planning prevails,. It can be tackled more tangibly and more quickly than others. This is because saving food which is currently wasted means being able to. Or at least have the opportunity to, use this food to feed more people. The Economist predicts that if one quarter of the food currently wasted were saved,. It would be enough to feed the world’s hungry. In this way, as a climate action related initiative, the benefits of reducing food waste will be observable a lot more quickly than, for example, switching to electric cars.

In Indonesia, over 20 million people go hungry and yet it is consistently one of the world’s largest food wasters. To be exact, each year approximately 23 to 48 million tonnes of Indonesian food ends up in landfill – an amount which could easily feed at least 60 million of the population. Whilst this waste marginally decreased during the worst of the pandemic, it has already bounced back to pre-pandemic levels and is only expected to rise. In fact, if this year’s eid celebrations are anything to go by, there will be more food waste in Indonesia’s post-COVID era.

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Certainly, it’s ironic that the month in which most Indonesian Muslims fast from sundown to sunset is the same month that the most food is demanded and consumed. It’s unsettling that this month is also the month that Indonesia’s already high food waste hits its peak. To be specific, FLW usually increases by an average of 20% during Ramadan. In what is already being dubbed the biggest homecoming mudik (exodus) season in living memory, the food waste that will be leftover from this years eid celebrations is certain to surpass this figure.

For many, and rightfully so, a return to business-as-usual practices for Ramadan is a good thing. People are relishing in the ability to eat their takjil from the street and buy various toys to exchange for eid celebrations. However, this hyper-consumption almost always coincides with hyper-food waste. If Indonesia has usually been ranked the world’s second or third biggest food waster, it is certainly at risk of becoming number one.

The fix to this kind of waste is not easy but, importantly, not impossible. Usually for a developing country, food is lost at the production, rather than the consumption stage. Fixing this loss requires major systemic reform in order to make sure food is available to populations. This is contrary to developed countries, like the US, where the waste occurs at the consumption stage, generally because more people can afford to waste food, so to speak.

Despite being considered a developing country, Indonesia’s food waste happens at the consumption stage. Fixing this kind of loss is about redistributing food which already exists – arguably a better battle than trying to ensure food is available in the first place. However, it’s also about changing consumer attitudes – a longer, more intangible battle.

Of course, the best solution would be to plan to save food at both stages but Indonesia could reap quick benefits by redistributing food waste at the consumption stage.

To quote Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, “The huge food waste problem in Indonesia is truly ironic.” Indonesia has one of the most concerning hunger levels in Southeast Asia and yet wastes the most food in the world. This equation is alarming but it also indicates that a focus on reducing and redistributing food waste can drastically and quickly raise living standards.

written By: Abigail McCaill